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Rachel - Interview 15

Age at interview: 41
Brief Outline: In 1981 Rachel's mother took her own life. She was probably ill with depression when she used a gun to kill herself. Rachel was 15 at the time and was not offered any professional support. Since then she has had some counselling, which has been helpful.
Background: Rachel is a housewife. She is married and has 2 children aged 3 and 5. Ethnic background/nationality: white British.

More about me...

After Rachel’s birth her mother experienced post-natal depression. This happened again after her next daughter was born. This depressive illness seemed to last for the rest of her life. When Rachel was aged 12 or 13 her mother took an overdose of tablets and was admitted to hospital but recovered.
 
In 1981, when Rachel was aged 15, her mother took her own life by using a gun to shoot herself. This was a huge shock to all the family. Rachel’s father was traveling overseas at the time and came home immediately. Rachel’s mother was cremated and her ashes were placed in a churchyard near to the family home. Rachel remembers the memorial service and the vast number of people who came to remember and honour her mother. Rachel did not attend the inquest but thinks that the verdict was death due to suicide.
 
When Rachel’s mother died Rachel found it hard to believe that her mother was dead. She felt that other people did not know what to do so they tried to carry on life as normal. Her grand-mother, other relatives and nannies looked after the children when her father was working overseas.  
 
Rachel was not offered any professional help or counselling at the time of her mother’s death and over the years the family has found it hard to talk about what happened. Ten years after her mother’s death Rachel sought some professional counselling, which she found helpful.
 
Rachel still feels upset and sad when she remembers what happened to her mother. She also feels annoyed that others seem to judge her differently because her mother took her own life. Rachel objects to the stigma attached to suicide and thinks that perhaps her mother took a brave step by ending her life and by giving up so much. 
 
Rachel’s confidence was affected by her mother’s death but over the years her confidence has returned. She is glad that she has built a good life for her husband and children. She feels that it is important to tell people when she is happy or when she has had a lovely day. She realises that “life is too short” and wants to make the most of it.

Rachel was interviewed in September 2007.
 

Other people recoiled in horror and didn't expect Rachel to be 'normal' after she told them that...

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You said you thought there was a stigma attached to suicide. What makes you think that?


I think it’s just people’s reaction, you know, when, when I say what happened to mum. And again I don’t really tell people some things. I don’t want people’s pity. I mean if anybody’s lost a relative, you know, parent. I remember once a year, a few years ago, I was, I think I was pregnant, yes, I was pregnant with [my son] and I was still working, I used to work in, in London. And there was a thing with Paula Yates, who was married to Bob Gel-, was it Bob? Yes, married to somebody, might have been Geldof. And she died and they didn’t know if she’d committed suicide or it had been an accidental overdose. And I remember some girls at work were talking about it. And I thought they were being a bit small minded about suicide, just being, saying some really awful things about suicide. So I just said, I just started saying, “Actually my mum committed suicide.” And immediately they both looked, they sort of almost recoiled in horror. And then they said to me, “But you’re so normal.” And I remember thinking, “Well, that’s probably why I don’t tell people” because they, you know, immediately think that they must have been a complete fruitcake, sort of fruitcake. And then I felt that it changed the way they looked at me and I thought, “I just want you to judge me for who I am and not what, you know, not what’s happened to me.” So I don’t really, a lot of people I just don’t tell, you know. If people ask me how mum died, then I say. And it’s amazing actually how many people then still ask. And if you say your mum committed suicide, people will say, “Well, how?” And then you say, you know, “She shot herself.” And then everyone looks completely horrified. I felt like saying, “But you asked me. So I’ve told you.” You know, you can tell people, a lot of people are quite uncomfortable about it. Probably because they, you know, they don’t know enough about it.

 

Rachel wants to change her mother’s headstone so that her mother is remembered in a positive...

Rachel wants to change her mother’s headstone so that her mother is remembered in a positive...

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And you said that your mum was cremated. Did you have any special place for her ashes?


No, she went to the cemetery near, sort of near where we lived and near where my dad’s parents are. Which again in hindsight, I think, I don’t know, because she wasn’t from there, but they probably, you know, had her ashes there because it was closest to where we were. And I don’t know how quickly dad got a headstone. There’s a headstone there now which I’ve been meaning to change for years because we, none of us like what is on the headstone. Because dad had the headstone engraved with “such a tragic ending” and I remember thinking, “Well, actually, I don’t want that to be anyone’s, you know, impression of mum.” There were a lot of good things and I thought, “Why focus on what happened at the end?” So a couple of years ago I got, I got loads of information about gravestones and, and tried to get the headstone redone and, you know, just tried to think what we could put on it. But it’s amazing how apathetic my brother and sisters are. You know, they’re all very, they want to do it, but they’re quite happy to let me do it. So as I say I haven’t done it yet. But I’d like to get it changed.


You say it’s in Cheshire?


It’s in, yes, it’s sort of near where my dad lives, where, where we grew up really. So I don’t actually go very often. I used to go, but I found it quite upsetting. I don’t actually get a lot of comfort [from going there], I know some people get a lot of comfort from going to a grave, maybe because it doesn’t say anything particularly positive about mum on the stone…


Looking back, as teenagers, would you like to have been consulted, do you think, about what was going to be on the gravestone?


I think definitely, yes. Because I think, you know, it was, mum played such a big part in our lives and I suppose it is, it is a permanent reminder of, of somebody. But I, you know, it, I don’t know, I don’t know if dad felt he, he, he shouldn’t consult us. I think, as I’ve said before, he’s not someone that speaks easily about his feelings. And, you know, that would have been quite a, a, I suppose a challenge to get all four of us to agree with what we wanted to say on the, on the stone. In hindsight it might have been better to just put mum’s name and then I think you, we could have gone back later on and, and, and had some engraving done. But, you know, I suppose that he just had to make a decision and do what he thought was right. And I suppose hindsight is a, is a great thing. There are an awful lot of things that would have been done differently.

 

Rachel learned that you can experience tragedy and yet move forward. She says she could have let...

Rachel learned that you can experience tragedy and yet move forward. She says she could have let...

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I think in hindsight, you know, initially I went, I certainly, I lost my confidence and became very introverted. But as I’ve got older I’ve actually sort of come out of myself and I feel a lot more confident. I feel very able to make friends, I think because I’m used to having to cope for myself. So maybe initially I lost my confidence. But then I realised that in not having mum, you know, to support me and my dad was away a lot, I had to be quite self-sufficient. So I, I, you know, I can, I always pride myself that you can put me in any situation and I would always, not necessarily make friends, but be able to talk to people and hopefully, you know, build a life for myself. And I think I learned from that that, you know, you can have, not disaster, but tragedy and move forward. And I think I have made the most of my life. And a number of people sort of say, you know, when my, this girl said to me, “But you’re so normal.” I mean I don’t what she thought I, how I should have been. But I think I just realised that you can’t blame how your life turns out on something that’s happened, you know, in the past. I could have, I could have let that ruin my life really. I could have gone on and over and over what had happened. And I think I just realised that mum, you know, all mum’s efforts would have been in vain if we hadn’t made the most of ourselves really. So it’s given me, you know, it’s given me the confidence to go on and, and hopefully make a happy family life.

 

Rachel’s mother died 26 years ago but she always remembers the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Rachel’s mother died 26 years ago but she always remembers the anniversary of her mother’s death.

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That was 20, gosh, it was 20, 1981, so 26 years ago. Because I remember I had a sort of a landmark; I was pregnant with my son. And it was, mum died on the 14th of September and there was the memorial service for the 9/11, it was on the 14th of September. And I remember sitting thinking, I think actually that was when I told somebody. I was at work and, we’d been, I think I’d been to a meeting and then at 11, I remember they had a minute’s silence at 11. I just remember because that was 25 years that mum had died. And I just remember going and sitting in my office, because I just thought, you know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know if I’d get upset. And I just thought, “I don’t, I don’t want everybody, you know, sort of staring at me.” So I just sat in my office. I mean I was pregnant at the time, so, you know, I could just say, “I’m just going to go and sit down” and nobody really, you know, cottoned, cottoned on to it. But I remember just thinking that that was quite a landmark. I mean it was literally the day she died and they, you know, they were doing all this 9/11 memorial. But I mean I didn’t even know if my brother, I don’t even think my brother and sisters remembered it, not remembered the date. But one time my sister said, “What date was it that Mum died?” But I just, I suppose, I suppose I always remember the date.

 

Rachel believes she learnt something from her bereavement. She realises that life is too short...

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You said that your experiences have somehow changed how you sometimes view life.

 

Yes, I think, I think they stem from some of the letters I read after mum died and, you know, the lovely things that people said about mum, what they remember about her. And they just made me think, you know, how, how I feel if someone says something positive about me. In fact I found a letter a couple of years ago from my headmistress actually that she wrote, when I left school I wrote to her thanking her, and she wrote me a lovely letter just saying some quite nice things about me personally. I remember even reading it two years ago brought tears to my eyes to think that that’s what someone thought of me. And so I think more now if I’m in a situation that, you know, I’m having a particularly, I don’t know, I feel particularly happy or I’ve had a lovely day or someone’s been, you know, kind to me or, you know, I, I think something strongly about someone, I’ll tell them. And, and I can still see people look a bit uncomfortable to start with. If I just say, “Can I just say I’ve had a really lovely day”, you know, people obviously aren’t used to it. But I just think, well, I’d, I’d like to, if I’ve enjoyed something I want to tell someone I’ve enjoyed them. Or, you know, if friends have helped me out, then I do, I try and let them know what they’ve done for me. So I think that hopefully is a, is a positive thing that’s come out of all this. Life is too short I’ve realised.

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